EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, October 2, 2006

Tuesday, October 10
Last Day to Register to Vote before the November Election
    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Actions

  • The Senate passed legislation last week ( Senate Bill 1209) that establishes a grant program for kindergarten classrooms in public and private schools to offer nutritional and agriculture education programs. The Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Program also is designed to benefit Pennsylvania farmers by exposing students and their families to locally grown nutritional foods. SB 1209 has been referred to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee passed amended versions of the following legislation. Both bills have been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee:

    Senate Bill 71: Requires all school entities to adopt policies related to bullying or to amend their code of student conduct to include consequences for bullying. The policies or code of conduct also may provide for bullying prevention, intervention and education programs. SB 71 does not require schools that already have such policies to adopt a new policy, however, it requires schools to review the policy every three years. The bill also allows the Office for Safe Schools to make grants to schools for developing and implementing bullying prevention programs as part of the targeted grants the Office is currently authorized to make.

    Senate Bill 1332: Makes numerous changes to the Public School Code related to school health services. SB 1332 requires schools to ensure that students undergo a physical exam within one year prior to entering school, one year before or during fifth grade, one year before or during ninth grade, and prior to being issued an employment certificate. If a student is not examined by a primary care provider before the deadline set by the school district, the district must schedule an examination for the child with a qualified health professional designated by the district. SB 1332 also requires children to visit the dentist within one year prior to starting school, one year before or during third grade, and one year before or during seventh grade. If a child does not undergo a dental exam, the district must schedule an exam for the child with a school dentist. Parents must be notified and invited to attend physical or dental exams scheduled by the district for their child. SB 1332 also addresses procedures for students who have or are suspected of having communicable diseases, health examination requirements for school employees, and tuberculosis and communicable disease evaluations for school volunteers.

  • The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on legislation that would establish an Independent Higher Education and Community Financing Program within the Department of Community and Economic Development. Under Senate Bill 307, nonprofit independent colleges and universities could apply for bonds on a first-come first-served basis to support projects related to community and economic development. Institutions would apply to a five-member Board of Review appointed by the Governor and House and Senate caucus leaders.

    Don Francis, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, said the legislation is needed to support the Commonwealth's 94 private institutions, many of which are critical to the economy of the rural communities in which they are located, and to "re-balance the playing field for higher education" following the Operation Jumpstart initiative implement by former Governor Casey. Operation Jumpstart made investments in capital infrastructure at State System of Higher Education and state-related universities as long as the universities provided matching funds, prompting these universities to engage in private fundraising, which some did for the first time and all now conduct proficiently. The advent of public universities' capital fundraising campaigns has resulted "in fewer dollars to support the private sector's capital needs" as they compete with the same local businesses and foundations. Francis told Committee members that such fundraising combined with continued state investment in public universities' capital needs "can overwhelm the ability of many of our private colleges and universities to compete with the public sector" if policymakers are not careful. Maryland, New Jersey and New York have put in place programs to assist private colleges and universities with their capital needs. Additionally, Francis said the funding is needed to help the colleges stay competitive in attracting out-of-state students, most of whom come from MD, NJ or NY.

    The Committee also heard from the presidents of Widener University, Neumann College, Susquehanna University and a representative of Gettysburg College about the positive impact such a financing authority would have both for their institutions and the surrounding communities. Neumann President Rosalie Mirenda also spoke to the disparate fundraising capacity among private institutions, with relatively new colleges like hers that have "a very young alumni base comprised mostly of nurses and educators" having a harder time raising funds than more established institutions.

    Additionally, representatives of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (SSHE), which would not receive funding through SB 307, appeared before the Committee to speak about its capital needs. The State System has approximately $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance needs for its academic buildings and an additional $1 billion in deferred maintenance for auxiliary structures such as residence halls and dining halls (SSHE does not currently use state funds to support these auxiliary structures). The System projects it should be investing over $100 million a year to maintain its academic and administrative facilities in their current condition; since 2000, the System has received $65 million annually from the state for this purpose. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair James Rhoades at (717) 787-2637.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • On Wednesday, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee held an informational hearing on the costs to Pennsylvania's economy from starting school before Labor Day. The Committee previously contracted an economic impact study with Tripp Umbach, a Pittsburg-based firm, which found that starting school after the September holiday could have an aggregate $426 million impact on the state's economy. The impact stems from recovering lost tourism revenue (the second largest industry in the state), income from extending students' and teachers' summer jobs, reduced child care costs (because child care tends to be less expensive during the summer than during the school year), and reduced costs of operating schools during the week prior to Labor Day. As a solution, the report proposes an eight minute extension of the school day, which would allow districts to eliminate three days from the school year. To implement this proposal, the state would need to change the school code to require that districts provide 900 hours of instructional time, rather than 180 days of instruction. The school day extension is estimated to save approximately $105.4 million in districts' annual operating costs. Access the report at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/factsheets/2006/384_schoolyear.pdf.

  • Auditor General Jack Wagner released performance audits of the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employee's Retirement System (PSERS) last week. The reviews found that "neither plan was fully funded at the end of last year". Assets for both pension funds declined from being more than 100% funded in 2002 "because of stock market losses and a 2001 decision by the General Assembly to increase employee retirement benefits while not addressing employer contributions". If action is not taken, the plans' current $11 billion shortfall (with PSERS accounting for about $9 billion of the shortfall) will begin to grow by 2012 when significant retirements are expected. The Auditor General recommends five steps the Governor and General Assembly should consider: 1) impose a moratorium on adding new retirement benefits until the pension funds' shortfalls are fixed; 2) return the vesting period to 10 years, from five years, for new hires; 3) identify other sources of revenue to help fund pension costs; 4) establish a rainy day fund that would make contributions to the pension funds during years of budget surpluses; and, 5) enact legislation that requires the Commonwealth to make annual contributions to SERS beyond 2007. The reviews also found that both funds are "managed effectively and professionally" and make some suggestions for improving administration. Copies of each audit are available at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/.

  • The Transfer and Articulation Oversight Committee, created by Act 114 of 2006 and tasked with identifying foundation courses that can be universally transferred between public institutions of higher education when students move from one college to another, met Wednesday. The Committee currently is working to develop equivalency standards for foundation courses. For more information, contact PDE at (717) 787-5041.

  • Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.


  • This Week...The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee meets Tuesday to discuss awarding a contract for a study of school district consolidation. The House Finance Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 2308, related to earned income tax collection. EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Capital Breakfast Series on Wednesday. EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center will honor Karl Girton, Chair of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, with the Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Award on Wednesday, October 18. The Center's annual Awards Dinner also will recognize with the EPLC Partner Award the Laboratory for Student Success at Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. EPLC also will recognize alumni of its leadership development programs. The EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award will be presented to Diane Castelbuono (1999-2000 Education Policy Fellowship Program), William R. Adams, Jr. (2001-2002 Pittsburgh ICLE) and Daniel Fogarty (2002-2003 Lehigh Valley ICLE). For more information about the 2006 Education Policy Leadership Awards Dinner, see www.eplc.org/donleydinner.html.

  • Save the Dates...EPLC will host the 2006 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium on Thursday and Friday, November 16-17, 2006 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Harrisburg.

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